County rejects SSA Marine permit revisions

Published on Wed, Jun 29, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Whatcom County officials have decided SSA Marine, the developer of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal, needs a new shoreline development permit for the $655 million terminal slated for Cherry Point.

In a June 23 letter to Pacific International Terminals, a subsidiary of SSA Marine, Whatcom County planning supervisor Tyler Schroeder said county planning and development services cannot accept SSA Marine’s submitted request for revisions to the company’s original 1997 shoreline development permit.

Schroeder explained SSA Marine’s revisions are too extensive to fall within the scope or intent of the original permit.
In 1997, Whatcom County Council approved two permits, the shoreline development permit and the major development permit, that SSA Marine applied for in 1992. Those permits described a 180-acre facility that was proposed to handle 8.2 million tons of dry cargo per year. Last week, SSA Marine submitted revisions to these permits that described the full build-out of the terminal: a 350-acre facility that could handle as much as 54 million tons of commodities per year. Coal was included as a potential commodity in the permit revisions, but not in the original 1997 permit.

Craig Cole, SSA Marine consultant and former Whatcom County Council member, said in a letter sent to proponents of the Gateway Pacific Terminal that SSA Marine respects the county’s decision but believes the original permit is still relevant. He also addressed concerns raised in a June 17 letter to the county from environmental law firm Earthjustice about the public’s role in county approval of SSA Marine’s permit revisions.

“Finally, the suggestion by some opponents that somehow by maintaining our existing permit we are avoiding complete scrutiny is just nonsense,” Cole wrote. “Every aspect of the project must go through a federal [environmental impact statement], and the public will be able to participate fully as well.”

Matt Krogh with RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, a Bellingham-based environmental group that has taken a strong stance against the proposed terminal, said the county planning department made the right decision in requiring a new shoreline permit from SSA Marine. He said he had trouble understanding why SSA Marine sought a permit revision when the scale of the project has changed so drastically.

The Gateway Pacific Terminal involves two permits from Whatcom County: a major project development permit, which is required for projects of a certain size, and a shoreline substantial development permit, which is required for major projects that come within 200 feet of the shoreline.

The county hearings examiner approves the shoreline permit but only provides a recommendation to county council on the major development permit, which council will be required to approve.

In addition, SSA Marine must submit an environmental impact statement to county, state and federal regulators detailing the potential impacts of the Gateway Pacific Terminal. The public’s first official chance to speak out on the project will be during hearings that will determine what the EIS should study, called the scope. Firm dates for these hearings have not been determined.